Wines of Portugal Sommelier Challenge – The Final

Nov 20, 2012

Each finalist was tasked with presenting a Portuguese wine from their list and explaining why it was up to the challenge of pairing with a dish from their menu. Primed and ready, the judges then put the match to the test, carefully assessing the suggested marriage in situ, with the highest accolade reserved for matches where the sum was greater than its parts.

The standard was high, with some very successful pairings; the taste-offs also proving a worthy showcase for both the quality and diversity of Portuguese wines. Lionel, however, was a very clear winner with his sublimely good combo of fish and Bical, gaining unanimous approval from the judges.  

A delighted Periner wins the prize of a trip to a Portuguese region of his choice, where he will create an exclusive blend with a leading winemaker. 


The Winner

Lionel Periner, La Trompette

Wine: Nossa Calcario Bical, Filipa Pato & William Wouters, 2010, Bairrada (£44)

Food Match: Roast fillet of Cod, tempura courgette flower stuffed with bacalhau, samphire, roast tomatoes and gremolata

Lionel Periner’s Bical and food combo wowed our judges by some margin, delivering a thrilling and near faultless pairing that brought out the best in both dish and wine. His choice of Bical (decanted) proved to be a stand-alone hit, with uplifted floral aromatics and a subtle hint of vanilla on the nose, leading into an elegant, minerally-taught, but expressive palate, which continued to evolve and open out beautifully in the glass.

The almost Burgundian texture and fresh acidity of this wine rose to the dish magnificently. The underlying creamy depths paired seamlessly with both the hearty roast cod and demanding bacalhau. Meanwhile, the salty tang of the salt-cod and the sea-green samphire balanced finely with the wine’s minerality and acidity, the latter bringing out the sweetness of the tomatoes, while helping lift the duo of roasted and tempura-coated cod.

‘A very worthy winner, producing an outstanding match and backing this up with good knowledge of the food-pairing possibilities of Portuguese wines,’ agreed Metcalf and Catchpole. 


The Runners Up

Joanne Twentyman, Mr Thomas's Chop House

Wine: Pedra Basta 2008, Vinho Regional Alentejano (£29)

Food Match: Roasted Breast of Lamb with a lemon zest and mustard crust, served with alight casserole of devilled lamb’s kidney, new potatoes and baby leeks

This was a dish that scored for its honesty and depth of flavour. The lamb wasn’t too fatty, nor the kidneys too whiffy, while the accompanying meaty wine reduction was well judged for both seasoning and intensity.

Twentyman’s choice of wine initially looked bold, but soon calmed down to show a fragrant side to its bold, berry flavours. With the lamb, its wild, herby character emerged, while with the kidneys, the sweetness of fruit and note of vanilla became apparent. All in all, an excellent pairing.


Carlos Simões, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Wine: Redoma Reserva Branco 2010, Douro (£125) 

Food Match: Cod in cider with chard and fired mussels

This was a complex dish, combining slow-cooked cod with flame-opened mussels, a deceptively rich beurre blanc cider sauce and the bitter-edged hint of chard. The resulting dish was seamless, balancing elements of buttery richness, smoky-sweet mussels and, of course, the textured fish flesh.

Simões choice of Dirk Niepoort’s Redoma Branco, with its fresh, apricot nose and generously complex, mineral-layered palate, was a good option to meet and match the various elements in the dish, which it took comfortably in its stride.


Lewis Rees, Hawksmoor Guildhall

Wine: Churchill Estates Touriga Nacional 2009, Douro (£45)

Food Match: Hawksmoor Pork Belly Ribs with pickled cabbage

The heroic Hawksmoor ribs, marinaded for eight hours, followed by an eight hour slow-cook, rendered the pork supremely unctuous and spicy-sweet. Meanwhile the pickled cabbage presented a complimentary, contrasting challenge of its own.

Step up Lewis Rees, with a fine example of Portugal’s flagship red variety, Touriga Nacional, showing an aromatic, violet and herb nose, and dense, ripe palate, balancing rich fruit, firm tannins and a good bite of refreshing acidity. A great example of Touriga, but ultimately the wine was somewhat engulfed by this carnivore beauty of a dish.


Patricia Riber, Idlewild 

Wine: Quinta da Raza Dom Diogo Vinhao 2010, Vinho Verde (£25)

Food Match: Battered fish and chips, with tartare sauce and tomato ketchup

An off-piste and tantalisingly adventurous pairing, Riber’s choice of tasty gastropub F&C and a red Vinho Verde was intelligently designed to cope with the serious twin challenges of vinegar-tart tartare sauce and tangy-sweet tomato ketchup, piled on to boisterous batter. The rapier natural acidity of this racy red was a revelation with the ketchup and took the batter in its stride, but remained a little combatative with the fish. 

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